A $12.7-million renovation of Memorial Field has ignited a debate about where John Burroughs High School will host its May graduation, with administrators arguing that the facility needs to be protected and students calling for a return to the traditional commencement site.
“I definitely want to graduate at Memorial Field,” said senior Austin Ross, 17. “My mother graduated on it, my brother graduated on it and my sister graduated on it. I just feel like it has been a tradition for years at Burroughs.”
The high school hosted graduation at its field for decades before a much anticipated overhaul — kicked off in January following years of planning and fundraising — forced officials to move it to the Starlight Bowl last year.
With construction scheduled to be completed by spring, members of the class of 2012 said they expected to receive their diplomas at Memorial Field. But at an assembly in August, school officials announced that graduation would remain at the Starlight Bowl.
“It was a really big shocker,” Ross said. “The seniors probably booed for a few minutes. It definitely didn’t go well from the start.”
Student leaders, including members of student government and Junior Statesmen of America, quickly mobilized around the issue, drafting a petition and staging a debate featuring Principal Emilio Urioste.
“I am completely for Memorial Field,” said Alec Villalpando, 17, president of Junior Statesmen of America. “It is our field, it is where we should graduate. It is way more fitting than the Starlight Bowl. It may be a little less formal, but it is what fits our school best.”
Officials acknowledged the emotional attachment that multigenerational Burroughs families feel toward Memorial Field, adding that the 12-member school site council — composed of staff, parents and students — is exploring all options.
“My concern and that of the council’s is to make sure that the integrity of the new field and track is not compromised,” Urioste said.
Some Burbank Unified school board members said that, logistically, having the Burroughs High School graduation at the Starlight Bowl is the best option. The outdoor amphitheater already hosts the Burbank High School graduation, and having the two events on consecutive nights allows the district to streamline preparations, such as lighting and security.
“I have been to a lot of graduations at Burroughs…and frankly, the venue at the Starlight Bowl is better because the audience is closer to the students and you can see things better,” said school board President Ted Bunch.
But they also emphasized that the decision is up to the principal, adding that they will support him either way.
“Regardless of what the decision is, I would like it to be one that is made and then honored going forward,” said board member Larry Applebaum.
School site council members said they expect to make an announcement about the location of graduation by early December.